Theatre Hub

'90s Political Sex Farce 'Clinton the Musical' Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW

Clinton The Musical _13. Photos by Russ Rowland


Hillary may have just set up campaign digs in Brooklyn, but Bill’s two terms are getting a bawdy send-up across the river in Clinton the Musical, which opened Off Broadway at New World Stages last night. The loose-limbed romp down memory lane offers a Mad TV meets Cliff’s Notes-style recap of the scandals that rocked Mr. Clinton’s reign, from Whitewater to Lewinsky. But, it’s also an origin story for the Clinton on everyone’s lips, and in the brilliantly zany hands of Kerry Butler (whose turn as Olivia Newton John’s character in Xanadu is the stuff of Broadway musical legends), the likely nominee for 2016 is a comedic force to be reckoned with.

Clinton The Musical _10. Photos by Russ RowlandFirst presented stateside at the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival (and previously in Edinburgh), the musical by Peter and Michael Hodge has plenty to delight, not least of all the kooky and charming Ms. Butler. While these may not be the first descriptors the former First Lady calls to mind, the scribes take (many) liberties in their behind-the-scenes peek at a national sex farce in era of dial-up modems and monochrome pantsuits. While Butler’s two rousing solo numbers are worth all that comes between, this is a story about Bill—or, rather, two dueling sides of him.

Clinton The Musical _02. Photos by Russ Rowland“In my whole life, I have only ever loved two men—and they happen to be the same man.” With her opening line, Hillary introduces two versions of the former president: one, “William Jefferson” (Tom Galantich), is upstanding and trustworthy, while the other, “Billy” (Duke Lafoon), likes French fries, sex, and thumbing his sax. The two are often on stage at once, meant to be just one person (at first, only Hillary can actually see Billy). But trying to wrap your head around the stage logic of this simple, two-sides-to-every-coin metaphor proves to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Shoehorning a (relatively) high-concept stage gag into what is otherwise a low satire proves to be an awkward endeavor. Quarrels between the two Bills, presumably meant as inner dialogue, offer little insight on the man’s thinking, and Hillary debating them both makes for an odd political threesome. It’s Billy (the id among the three), of course, who meets Monica (Veronica J. Kuehn), who the Hodges have written as a scheming, blow-up-doll of a character that makes for easy laughs but feels uncomfortably misogynistic.

Clinton The Musical _09. Photos by Russ RowlandThe musical’s score has its ups and downs (the opening number, entitled “Awful-Awesome,” is inadvertently and mostly accurate), and director Dan Knechtges (Tail! Spin!, Lysistrata Jones) makes fun use of a rotating set and recurring sight gags (including a life-sized cutout of Al Gore and a singing portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt). The show’s juiciest laughs come from its super villains, Newt Gingrich (a rotund and petulant John Treacy Egan), first seen scarfing marshmallow goo from the jar in the sub-sub-basement of Congress, and Kenneth Starr (a gleefully maniacal Kevin Zak), whose pursuit of Bill is as awesomely perverse as it is sinister.

With the real political stage about to light up, a silly escape to root for our heroes and vilify our opponents may be just what the 24-hour pundits ordered. And, focusing on Hillary (and the idiocy of her family's rivals) while allowing Bill to fade into the background may be perfect practice, too.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: russ rowland)

Possessed Puppet Comedy 'Hand to God' Opens on Broadway: REVIEW



The titular appendage in Hand to God, playwright Robert Askins’ wickedly hysterical play that opened on Broadway last night at the Booth Theatre, goes by the name of Tyrone. He delivers some of the most apt criticism of western religion you’re ever likely to hear, and has zero tolerance for B.S.—including from the hand that wears him. A sharp-tongued (and awesomely foul-mouthed) sock puppet, Tyrone may or may not in fact be possessed by the devil. Forget everything you know about puppet shows: On the hand of a preternaturally masterful Stephen Boyer, this puppet is unlike any other you’ve seen before.

HAND_TO_GOD_on_Broadway1Askin’s play, which transfers to Broadway after a critically acclaimed run Off Broadway at MCC last spring, is set in a small Texas town, where a few teenage kids meet at the local ministry to rehearse a puppet pageant and stay out of trouble. Jason and his mother Margery (who leads the puppet group) are both reeling from the recent loss of his father to a heart attack. For Marge, running the group seems like a much-needed distraction; for Jason and his puppet Tyrone, it’s a lot more than just that.

Aside from his recent loss, Jason is a shy, quiet type, and giving voice to his puppet helps raise the volume on his own. Tyrone starts out like the devil on Jason’s shoulder, a wisecracking voice for thoughts the boy might not otherwise say himself. It’s how he first connects with Jessica (a wonderfully droll Sarah Stiles) the girl he likes in class, and later how he lashes back at Timothy, his cocky, oversexed rival (a perfectly bro-ey Michael Oberholtzer).

HAND_TO_GOD_on_Broadway4But it quickly becomes clear that Tyrone has a mind of his own, or at least a will separate from Jason’s, who can’t just take him off as he pleases. By the play’s second act, blood is drawn, puppet sex is had, and it seems an exorcism may be in order. Yet still, his puppet’s violent temper and wild libido are qualities Jason could use himself in moderation—courage to stand up for himself and the nerve to get the girl.

Boyer reprises his mind-boggling, virtuosic performance as Jason (and Tyrone), spending much of the play in conversation with his own left hand—from acting out an Abbot-and-Costello routine to impress Jessica, to full-on hand-to-sock combat. Jason and Tyrone are so distinct in personality and their two-way dialogue is so convincing, at times it’s astonishing to step back and realize you’re watching a single performance.

HAND_TO_GOD_on_Broadway3Joining the others from the Off-Broadway cast, Geneva Carr is equally warm and maniacal as Marge, who doesn’t get along with the other church mothers, and who attracts equally ardent attention from Pastor Greg (an ever charming Marc Kudisch), and hormonal Timothy, making her the apex of a twisted (and surprisingly athletic) love triangle.

Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel scales up the production from its downtown digs, keeping the action moving swiftly around its rotating set and amping up the laughs for a larger crowd, while also firmly grounding the play's human (non-puppet) drama. The stellar company reprises its expert performances with assurance, fueled by the uproarious energy of a Broadway audience.

Often shockingly funny, the play's disarming humor makes its dark conclusions all the more startling. We’re accustomed to puppets who have something to teach us, like the difference between good and evil. Tyrone's lesson that the two go inextricably hand-in-hand is likely to stick in your mind longer than most.

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Here are All 5 of Broadway's Hedwigs in One Epic Photo


Last Saturday night, the four actors who have played Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway — creator John Cameron Mitchell, Neil Patrick Harris, Andrew Rannells and Michael C. Hall — and future Hedwig Darren Criss, came together to celebrate Tony winner Lena Hall's last performance as Yitzak at NYC's Belasco Theatre.

Said Rannells on Instagram, where this was posted: "I am very proud to be a part of this group. And so happy for Lena and her triumphant run."

Theatre News: ‘The Wiz,’ ‘Cats,’ and ‘Groundhog Day,’ Plus Jason Alexander and Linda Lavin on Broadway



> NBC announced last week that The Wiz will be its next live broadcast musical, with an air date set for December 3. Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, newly freed from their two-year stint producing the Oscar telecast, have also teamed with Cirque du Soleil to bring the production to Broadway in 2016. Tony award-winner Kenny Leon is set to direct, with Harvey Fierstein contributing additional material to the original book by William F. Brown. No casting has yet been announced.

Jason alexander> Tony Award-winning Seinfeld vet Jason Alexander will replace Larry David in Fish in the Dark beginning performances on June 9, producer Scott Rudin announced. The comedy about a death in the family written by Mr. David has enjoyed major box office success, and was scheduled to play the Cort Theatre through June 7. With the casting of Alexander, the play, which also stars Rita Wilson and Rosie Perez, has extended its limited run through July 19. 

> Andrew Lloyd-Webber revealed further details on the likely Broadway transfer of the current London revival of Cats. In an interview with The Telegraph, the composer noted that his company is working out the details of transferring the production sometime in 2016, following the premiere of his new musical School of Rock in December of this year. The question is whether the musical, which originally ran on Broadway for nearly 18 years, will return in the spring or the fall. In either case, gird your loins.

Billie joe> Atlantic Theatre Company’s 2015-2016 season will include a new musical with songs by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, the company announced last week. These Paper Bullets!, written by Rolin Jones, was previously produced at the Yale Repertory Theatre and will begin performances at the Linda Gross Theatre in November. Also on the company’s docket are a new musical, The Band’s Visit, with book by Itamar Moses, music and lyrics by David Yazbek, and direction by Hal Prince, and a revival of Carol Churchill’s seminal play Cloud Nine, directed by James Macdonald.

> Linda Lavin will star in the Broadway premiere of Richard Greenberg’s play Our Mother’s Brief Affair at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Friedman theatre, the company announced last week. Artistic Director Lynne Meadow will direct the play, about a mother who reveals a shocking affair to her grown children. The production will begin previews on December 28 for an opening night of January 20, 2016.

Groundhog day> Another popular ‘90s film is getting the Broadway treatment: Producer Scott Rudin announced that a new musical based on Groundhog Day is aiming for Broadway in spring 2017. Four of the collaborators behind the musical Matilda, director Matthew Warchus, choreographer Peter Darling, composer and lyricist Tim Minchin, and designer Rob Howell, will team up with writer Danny Rubin, one of the movie’s screenwriters. The movie starring Bill Murray follows a Pittsburgh weatherman who gets caught in a time loop while reporting on Groundhog Day.

(Armstrong: chad batka)

Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy Open in ‘Skylight’ on Broadway: REVIEW



In one remarkable scene of director Stephen Daldry’s arresting and vivid production of Skylight, which opened on Broadway last night at the Golden Theatre, Kyra and Tom, the two main characters in David Hare’s 1995 drama, recall the spark and collapse of their six-year affair as Kyra prepares food in her rundown London flat. The tension between the former lovers, played with impeccable emotional precision by Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy, bubbles up in tandem with the food on the stove—and as the scent from the pot wafts through the audience over the course of their gripping exchange, the production achieves something like a total seduction of the senses.

SKYLIGHT_1_4114-V1-RGBIn the scene, we learn that Tom, a wealthy and successful restaurateur, met Kyra when she arrived in London at the age of 18 and got a job in one of his restaurants. The two began a romance they kept secret from Tom’s wife for six years, and which ended a few years before the play begins. Tom’s wife has since died of cancer, and his teenage son Edward (played by a dazzling and jumpy Matthew Beard) arrives at Kyra’s door hoping she can wrest his dad from his misery (or at least make him less miserable to be around). 

Hare’s three-character play happens over just two days in a single dingy, North London flat, but covers a sweeping range of social and political questions. The couple is divided across a line of haves and have-nots—he’s a rich, upper-class business owner and she’s a working-class teacher of underprivileged kids. Though the parallels are a bit neatly laid, the playwright’s exploration of the great social divide is well grounded in intimate drama, and the play’s language is full of the sort of swift insights and everyday poetry for which Hare is known. The beautifully designed set by Bob Crowley also situates the lovers in a broader context, showing glimpses of the other lives unfolding around them.

SKYLIGHT_1_4433-V1-RGBNighy, previously seen on Broadway opposite Julianne Moore in Hare’s The Vertical Hour, plays his role with the exacting, frenetic energy of a musician playing an instrument. His hands clenched in half-fists, Tom moves in fits and starts—bucking against the rare feeling of not having control. Nighy brings a spellbinding charisma to the role, making it easy to see why Kyra fell for him in the first place. He wants her back now, and considers the life she’s built since leaving him as an elaborate escape.

SKYLIGHT_1_4380-V2-RGBHare’s play is primarily concerned with its two generations of men, and, for three-quarters of the story, Kyra is something of a sieve for their psychological gymnastics. She listens, evades, serves tea, cooks and tidies up messes (which she mostly makes herself). Mulligan (previously seen on Broadway in The Seagull) has a brilliant and uncanny way of evoking a swell of feeling behind a placid exterior. And when she does unleash that inner turmoil, she does so with explosive and affecting force.

Though the play’s gender politics show some signs of age 20 years on (Kyra questioning Tom about respecting her decisions actually gets a laugh), Daldry’s production makes the drama and its many social questions feel vital and urgent. Having collaborated on the novel-to-screen adaptations of The Hours and The Reader, Hare and Daldry have a visual language all their own, and it’s as stunning as it is visceral. Seeing this many gifted artists come together is rare, and the results are divine. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: john haynes)

Theatre News: Audra McDonald and Brandy on Broadway, Jesse Tyler Ferguson in the Park, ‘Cabaret’ on Tour


> Brandy Norwood (otherwise known as Brandy) will make her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in the long-running production of Chicago, producers Barry and Fran Weissler announced this week. The revival, which opened on Broadway in 1996, has welcomed many stars in its nearly 20-year run, including most recently Jennifer Nettles in the role of Roxie. Brandy will begin performances on April 28 and continue through June 21.

Audra> Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will return to Broadway in spring 2016 in Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, a backstage musical about the making of the 1921 musical Shuffle Along, producer Scott Rudin announced. To be directed by George C. Wolfe (Angels in America) and choreographed by famed dancer Savion Glover, the show will mark the first collaboration between the two artists since Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk in 1996. Shuffle Along, a controversial all-black musical that launched the career of Josephine Baker, was created by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, with music and lyrics by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle.

Jesse> Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater will join Sam Waterston in this summer’s free Shakespeare in the Park season, the Public Theater revealed last week. Ferguson joins previously announced Waterston in director Michael Greif’s production of The Tempest, which will run from May 27 to July 25, while Rabe and Linklater will play opposite each other in director Daniel Sullivan’s production of Cymbeline, which plays from July 23 to August 23, both at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park.

> Roundabout Theatre Company announced the launch of a national tour of its acclaimed production of Cabaret, beginning performances in Providence, R.I., in January 2016. Directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, the revival was originally produced by the Roundabout in 1998 and returned to Studio 54 last season starring Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams. Emma Stone and Sienna Miller have also stepped in to play the role of Sally Bowles in the Broadway run. Casting for the tour has not yet been announced. 


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